Border issue weakens Bihar’s ‘roti-beti’ bond with Nepal, brings fear of floods

Nepal which shares a 800-km border with Bihar prevents embankment work along no man's land, restricts cross over of Indians into its territory despite villagers from both countries being related through marriage

Trade between India and Nepal has also been affected due to strained diplomatic ties. Photo for representational purpose only: PTI

The strained relationship between India and Nepal is proving disastrous for Bihar in many ways. The state which shares an 800 km-long border with Nepal has always maintained a peaceful relation with the neighbouring country, but the current situation seems to have turned the same neighbour into “rival”.

The prevailing tension along the border could lead to a deluge in a large part of the north as Nepal has stalled a number of anti-erosion works along the border right at the time when the monsoon has already arrived. Although floods have been an annual feature in Bihar, the souring of relations between the two nations is likely to bring a threat of floods larger than before.

Securing borders, the first sign of rivalry

The first sign of strained relations was seen when Nepal stopped the Bihar government from carrying out embankment-related works on the border claiming the area as its own. Officials from the water resources department said Nepal has stopped fortification of embankment on Lal Bakay River in Dhaka block of Bihar’s east Chamaparan district bordering Nepal.

The river originates from the Himalayan region of Nepal and enters Bihar via Balua-Guvabari panchayat before disappearing in East Champaran. The embankment on the river was built decades ago by Bihar’s water resources department and the latter undertook repair works every year before the onset of monsoon. However, this time the situation has suddenly turned critical as the Nepal authorities prevented Bihar from carrying out anti-erosion work on the border claiming the areas as its own. Nepal has laid its claim over some 500 meters of embankment out of its total 2.5-km-long stretch.

Related news: Nepal obstructs Bihar’s flood prevention work along border

“The Nepal authorities have objected to repair of embankment in a 500-metre area,” East Champaran district magistrate Shirshat Kapil Ashok said, adding that he had reported the matter to the Bihar government, the Centre and Indian Consulate general at Birgunj in Nepal.

Bihar water resources minister Sanjay Jha too wondered over the incident saying such things had never happened in the past. “They (Nepal) are not allowing repair work for Gandak Dam that takes place in Lal Bakeya River in no man’s land. Also, they’ve stopped repair work at several other locations. For the first time, we’re facing such a problem,” Jha told the media on Monday (June 22).

The minister said the local engineers and the district magistrate were holding talks with the authorities concerned and would write a letter to the Ministry of External Affairs too. “If the issue is not addressed soon, then major parts of Bihar will be flooded,” the minister revealed.

Bihar residents face the threat of floods 

Officials said they were surprised at the objections raised by Nepal since the last portion of the embankment is more than nine meters away from the no-man’s land. “So the dispute is unreasonable and unwarranted,” said an official.

Local village council officials said around a million population settled along the embankment would face the fury of incoming floods if the embankment repairs were not completed soon.

“You know, floods here are caused mostly by rivers which originate in Nepal and flow through vast tracts of Bihar. All these rivers are fed by rains in the catchment areas of Nepal which bring devastating floods every year. If the embankment is not repaired soon, the pressure of water can make it collapse which could cause heavy damage to both life and property,” local Sarpanch Samdida Khatoon said.

Paying with life, cross-border relations  

The souring of ties between the two nations has also cost the life of a Bihar villager who died in firing by the Nepalese Armed Police Force at a crowd in Bihar last week. Officials say the trouble started over a petty issue that could have been avoided given the “Roti-Beti” ties (or close relations) between the citizens of the two countries.

Authorities said the incident took place during a meeting between the family members from both sides of the border when the Indian villagers were asked by security personnel to leave due to lockdown in Nepal. Even though such meetings and cross overs are common, this time the Nepal forces resorted to firing to disperse the villagers, killing one in the process.

Until recently, the people from the two countries never realised they were living in two separate countries, and had been intruding into each other’s territories to buy items of daily use, meet relatives or carry out farming works.

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In another significant move that could further affect the ‘Beti-Roti’ ties between the Nepal and Bihar border villages, Nepal’s Parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee has proposed to amend the country’s Citizenship Act which would now require a foreign woman married to a Nepali national to wait seven years to get naturalised citizenship. It’s worth mentioning here that Bihar shares some 800-km-long porous border with Nepal, and the villages from either side of the border have age-old ties formed through marriage.

Residents in villages on either side of the border share one another’s happiness and grief, never realising that they live in two different countries.

The overall relationship between the two nations embittered after Nepal staked claim over Indian territories. Going a step further, the Upper House of Nepal Parliament even approved a new political map for the country which includes disputed territories that India too claim as its own. The new map shows strategically important Indian territories such as Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura of Uttarakhand as territories of Nepal.

Related news: Nepal’s radio stations broacast anti-India speeches in bordering areas